President J.K. Kufuor has bemoaned the high utility cost in Ghana and the continent in general.

He complained that while non-oil producing countries like Ghana “are smarting under the heavy cost of importing oil, its citizens are forced to cope with rising utility costs,”

The President, therefore, charged regulators on the continent to maintain realistic charges which will sustain businesses of service providers without unduly compromising the capacity of consumers to pay for the service, nor their well-being,

The President expressed this concern in a speech read on his behalf by the AttorneyGeneral and Minister of Justice, Joe Ghartey, at the closing ceremony of the Fifth African Forum for Utility Regulators (AFUR) annual conference on Wednesday.

The conference, being attended by about 200 utility regulators from Africa, is under the theme “regulatory non-discrimination, promotion of competition and protection of investors”.

The President also called for co-operation between consumers and service providers.

He stated that in the face of scarce resources, the global credit crunch and the spectre of global recession, “every available resource must be invested judiciously to drive the national agenda towards economic growth, poverty reduction, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and improved livelihoods”.

“As challenging as this charge is, regulators should always endeavour to play their regulatory roles with integrity and compassion, with the best interest of society at heart,” he stressed.

On their part, he said, government should work towards the adoption and implementation of policies to hold the balance between the interests of investors and providers of services on one hand and the consumers on the other hand.

In this regard, governments should be in consultation with all stakeholders in the formulation of policies and regulations for provision of sustainable services and also facilitate public-private partnerships for the provision of the needed services.

At a press conference yesterday, the chairman for AFUR, Smunda Mokoena, attributed the low investment in the utility sector in Africa to the absence of the conducive environment required to attract investors into the sector.

“If the environment is not good enough, investors will take their money to places where their investment will yield good returns,” he said.

Mr Mokoena stated that a conducive environment rested on three things namely stability, certainty and predictability.

In this direction, he said, a conscious effort should be made in that direction, indicating that NEPAD supports that idea.

He said as regulators, they were required to play a lead role in creating that necessary environment and reminded countries to put in place clear rules and regulations to ensure that investors do not feel prejudiced when such rules are applied to them.

The Executive Secretary of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), Stephen Adu, in response to a question regarding the issue of subsidies on utilities stated that it will not be proper to subsidise tariffs on utilities on a wholesale.

He suggested that government should identify low income earners to subsidise their utility tariffs.

This, he indicated, was necessary to ensure that utility agencies recover their basic operating cost instead of introducing subsidies on tariffs to all consumers.

Mr Adu said the issue of tariffs alone was not the answer as a lot more money was required to replace old and damaged equipment.

To this end, he said, the focus should be on attracting investors to the sector.

Source: The Times